Thursday, November 10, 2016

Extended Deadlift Wave Formulas

 Warning: Not everyone can tolerate frequent deadlifting, 
high volume deadlifts, or anything like this.
Train with caution - always. 

This video will help you kinda understand how to use the template from the Compendium above and edit it with your knowledge gained from below.

Earlier this year I published Applications & Adaptations and since February 2016 it has nearly 90,000 reads with countless pounds and kilos of gains reported by those who managed to read it… damn long thing that it is. Within A&A simple write ups were given for things like The Rippler, UHF, and Deadlift Wave Forms. Today I publish Extended Deadlift Wave Formulas, an addition to that early deadlift-specific training theory. Early in regards to inclusion to my own training and the training principles I espouse- but by no means revolutionary, new, or a unique and special creation of my own. Practitioners of conjugate style training will see this is familiar stuff in the grand sense- as that’s exactly the style of programming it is based upon. In my opinion some movements lend themselves better to certain training styles; the squat with high frequency and specificity for example. 

Before you read further watch Summon the Gainer. Evidence of said gains:

For the following reasons, I have determined that the deadlift is particularly suited to variation use in training planning. I base this opinion by own efforts in the gym, the efforts and data from the clients I train, and research I’ve done both formally and informally via talking with high level lifters. When utilized effectively a progressive scheme of deadlift variations can result in greater progress in the following ways: Form Improvement and Consistency, Average Rep Speed, a higher Technical Max, and therefore significant gains in both Work Capacity and Limit Strength will be experienced.  

This isn’t revolutionary training material but I would argue it to be a critically thought out and well planned training theory that is easily tailored to an individual and understood by mostly anyone who has ever taken special interest in deadlifting. The concept of ROM (Range of Motion) Emphasis has been around since the birth of barbells and through the decades it has been practiced in the form of pin presses, isometric holds, chains, bands, blocks, etc. Deadlift Wave Forms provided a framework for an effective personal structure to becoming a better deadlifter via this sound training theory framed in a conjugate approach.

What the original Deadlift Wave Forms (DLWF) emphasized was deficits and block work of variable differences and heights. Through the three week waves a variety of ROM was used and by those means the lifter could target which portion of the pull they struggled with the most and train for its direct improvement effectively; off the floor or at lockout. Range of Motion is one of the important factors to consider when training, but it’s not the most- and it is often misconstrued. Having a longer ROM doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed to a bad deadlift and intentionally lengthening it is a great way to improve the initiation and holding position while deadlifting. Likewise for block pulls allowing for overload and start-position adjustment. Range of Motion is important in that specific action taken in specific ranges has predictable and beneficial adaptations. With this in mind Extended Formulas aims to improve the Wave Forms theory of deadlifting, in my biased opinion the best there is on the matter.

One of the failures of the original DLWF is that its focus was too narrow on deficits or blocks and from that an even greater failure existed- focusing on variable differences or heights week to week. Simply too much ROM variability to have definitive impact in most cases. Gains were had but as a result of what height most especially? No way to know. Extended Formulas improves upon this in a number of ways, from a better means of ROM increase or decrease progression to inclusion of position directed work via paused deadlifts and speed/overload measure of bands (or chains.)

As a result of the original DLWF sessions my deadlift exploded to 635 in the gym. Less than a year later I managed to use similar training principles to get a competition PR of 628 at 176 pounds bodyweight, with three white lights and relative ease. In that meet earning 27 whites. 

Extended Deadlift Wave Formulas brings together a broader, more inclusive, and much more effective theory to deadlifting.

Range of Motion Importance,
Weak Point Identification & Analysis

Typical weak points are either just off the floor or nearing lockout, about 3 inches above the knee in most cases. Knowing where your weakness is greatest will improve the chances that your training waves are more effective and training effort isn’t wasted.

"But GZ I die on the floor when I'm near my max!"

Weak off the Floor (Floor Speed)

Identifiers: Hip raise at initiation (most common), shoulders drifting forward at initiation, straight legged with the bar below the knee, trunk collapse at midway, and speed loss later in the ROM.

Floor strength is largely dependent upon how well the lifter can maintain a strong position to optimally transfer the most amount of force in the most acute position (more closed joint angles) at the start of the lift. When position is lost the lifter may be strong enough to defeat the mass of the bar, but not within a sound technical approach, and error grows as fatigued is induced via intensity or volume. Weakness off the floor as a result of position loss is why most lifters feel their “weak point” is at the knee. 

When weak off the floor pulls start dying half way up. In such a case it isn’t a weak lock out that is the problem, or at the knee, but rather the lump sum of energy was sapped from the lifter defeating their most difficult section of the ROM. This is a common mistake for would be monster-deadlifters; confusing a poor lockout for weakness in that ROM, when really they were just drained and likely in a bad position by that time. What actually occurred was much earlier in the ROM but was manifested inches higher. 

How many claim their lockouts suck, train their lockouts directly with blocks, and don’t get better- too many. The reason is typically that it wasn’t a lockout problem to begin with- it was an off the floor problem.

Potential Solutions: Deficit and paused work for T1 and T2 level efforts. Especially early in the waves when positioning and the ability to hold good a position is critical for speed and overload directed work that will come later in the waves. Paused and Deficit work are two great ways to train the qualities of Bar Control and Positioning.

“A car can only reach top speed if its driver can control the ability of the machine.”

Natty Police be chasing you down cause these gains are unfair.

Couple this with T2 and T3 accessories that are not deadlift variations like: Direct ab work in forms of stability driven overload is ideal, think Planks, Pallof Presses, as is more mid and upper back work via Rows, Pull Ups, Lat Pull Downs, etc. 

If the lifter has great back development and strength and their abdominals are of the same standard then the final culprit to pursue in off-the-floor weakness is directed quad work. This is too often the go-to, because quads are fairly easy to strengthen and grow in most lifters, and it does seem to be the fad thing to train to get a stronger deadlift.  But consider that stronger quads will result in a stronger force in that first initial pull. If the true weakness is abdominal or position holding then the stronger quads will only exacerbate the problems that haven’t been properly addressed later down the line. Another thing to consider before simply blaming “weak quads” for an off the floor issue is that if you’re already squatting 1-2x a week and not doing any serious ab or back work- how likely do you think “weak quads” is a legitimate problem? 

Continued progress is highly dependent upon honest self-assessment and expectations. When in doubt a weakness off the floor can be defeated in 99% of situations by using the Game Genie of Accessories in the T2 - the Front Squat. (SSB an acceptable sub)

If Front Squats had a Halloween costume.
They're the real Gains Genie.

Weak at Lockout

Identifiers: Slow down just below the knee and weights around 90-100% are more commonly grinders to finish- even if a planned submaximal lift. Common inability to lockout weights even when lighter and simply fatigued from training volume- not too much weight. (Conversely a weakness off the floor typically ends stapled or below the knee). Deadlifters with higher starting hip positions tend to have weaker lockouts as do lifters who fail to maintain position at the knee or higher. 

Probable causes include weak glutes and abdominals, bad position consistency, inflexibility, pull impatience (grip and rip), bar drift, and improper movement patterning. As you can see those who struggle at lockout are problem children. The probable causes here are many, and in some cases like inflexibility the solution is too abstract to be convincing. 

Potential Solutions: This tends to be a harder ROM failure to train effectively as it is associated with more intermediate to advanced lifters. As a result, the training plan timeline may need to be longer for these individuals. They would still focus on position refinement and technical improvement for the first few waves via paused or repetition work but as they continue a “weakness at lockout” directed Wave Formula training plan should work on overloading the top end of the lift through bands, chains, or blocks.

Easy T2 and T3 solutions to implement for this problem would be additional ab work and direct glute work, my choice being single leg glue bridges and that elusive glute donkey kick machine. Position consistency can be combatted with slowing the training pace and choosing to be intentionally mindful- a hard task, but a necessary one for many. 

The last two difficult hurdles to get over for those with poor lockouts in the deadlift are ones that are most troublesome- inflexibility and movement patterning. If you’re not flexible enough to positon yourself safely and optimally to pull then your strength will be less effectively applied. Similarly, if the way you pull starts with mis-directed effort than much of that will be needlessly expended.  Are you too literally “picking the bar up” and thus raising the hips early? Consistent cue use would help. Pulling back too hard and grinding the shins, thus increasing bar friction too dramatically- that’s a remedy mindful repetition can fix. 

On Lifter Habits

Many of those above are lifter-habit improvement solutions – knowing when a position is off, intentionally focusing on each individual rep, etc. This tends to be the case with most lifter’s training plateaus. They’ve simply got a bad habit to break and through that progress will come. For novice and intermediate lifters poor lifter habits lead to worsening technical ability, more immediate plateaus, poor lift efficiency, and injuries. Focusing on those lifter habits can make each rep just a fraction better and through repetition we become stronger better versions of ourselves. 

Like realizing you forgot your shirt once you get to the gym.
Poor lifter habit.

Individual Differences

Like all things training, the things that make us individuals demand that our training plans be individualized. The deadlift may perhaps being the one most affected by this. Without an eccentric phase the deadlift starts with more acute joint angles. It’s initial strength progression is often faster than the technical mastery curve and removal of the stretch reflex to a large extent means bar control is a less imminent factor as well. Worse yet the bar is a standard height from the floor that all lifters – big and small – must start with. 

For those reasons and many more an
effective deadlift program should be individualized!

Training History Considerations

Your training history considerations should be focused on your work capacity specific to the deadlift, your technical limit (the intensity your form begins to fail) and how much volume you can handle at upper tier intensities, think high T2 and all T1 lifts. Without a firm grasp of where you’re coming from a future training plan is destined to fail. This could be caused by planning too much volume, making it too hard to recover for the next session to be trained effectively, or at all. Failure to address the nuances of individual differences will hinder the progression of strength and limit the success while using Extended Formulas. 

Remember these are always intended to be templates – guides for a personal design.
Tailoring it to ensure your success is encouraged,
“doing the program” means you’re doing my program – Not yours.

Injury History and Aggravation Issues

Other considerations would be your injury history and any aggravation issues you’ve had. This could mean not choosing one movement over another because it is known to limit your training. Again, changing the plan to remove these thorns is necessary. When addressing these injury history and aggravation problems caused by movements, ranges of motion, loads, volume, etc., be sure to not just identify the problem that arises but speculate and investigate potential causes. Often times a remedy to an injury aggravation issue can be properly implemented in an existing training plan. An example of this is choosing rehabilitative directed accessories versus strength or hypertrophy focused ones. This was the case when I chose things like single leg glute bridges, ab planks, TRX work, and the like for my T3. By doing so I wasn’t “missing gains” in the lower tier, just buying insurance for those I want most in the T1 and T2. 

Plan to Succeed by Identifying and Avoiding Past and Potential Training Failures

When planning your Deadlift Wave Forms training program avoid these three specific pitfalls: Ineffective Principles, Loads, or Movements.  This style of training lends itself to variety in a number of forms. As a result, some variations are not going to work as great as others per the individual. Do not go against your own training history without warranted cause – if blocks didn’t work for that last six-month cycle then it likely won’t do much this time around. (That is unless you find out after reading this you programmed them like a doofus.) While not an absolute certainty it is best to avoid working against your best interest. If the training plan calls for bands and you don’t have access, or deficits lead to injury, then change the plan to a movement you know works and you can consistently perform. Change the plan to ensure the volume ranges you’re working with aren’t too overzealous at the start and your deloads aren’t an unexpected necessity brought by injury. 

Progress requires change, but not all change brings progress. If you know something doesn’t work, then don’t do it – use the model and theory to identify workable and effective solutions to fit your personal need. While DLWF implements variety via blocks, deficits, bands, pauses, there is potential for more – chains, suits, etc. The key is training effective variables; the change must consistently string those effective variables to bring about progress.  

Keep training journal. Don’t repeat the same mistakes.

All Martha wanted to do was PR her deadlift.
She "tried everything" but just ended up insane.
Don't be like Martha.
Do Deadlift Wave Forms

Wave Formulas – The Basics

Stress Adaptation Cycle

Without properly addressing General Adaptation Syndrome, the factors it regulates and those it is governed by, a training plan cannot be properly structured in a per-session approach; especially across days, weeks, and months. The GAS principles apply throughout the training and as such should be properly applied when developing your individual training plan on a daily basis. In the general sense, most of this is taken care of through assigning work into the tiers with prescribed volume and intensity ranges per-session. Stay within those and training will go reasonably well, but to improve it remember the above call to individualization. 

Another factor is the structure works with 3-week designed waves that rotate in a means to feed into the next wave. This 3-week timeline is by no means fixed, and longer waves with more gradual slopes may be necessary in some cases. I would warn against going shorter than three weeks though as the adaptation response cycle for things from muscular recovery, motor learning, skills transfer, and more, all require time. Thus, building short choppy waves will lead to training turbulence and lack of progress. 

Don’t be too excited to start the next wave, master and crush the one you’re in.

Otherwise Wave Forms crushes you.

Movement Selection

Both sumo and conventional stances can be used. One can be favored over another and they can be programmed together in the same Extended Formula to help feed into each other. In such a case the sumo deadlifter would want to plan conventional deadlifts at the start of the plan, vice versa for conventional pullers.

Common Deadlift varieties to be considered:

Opposite Stance – Great for novice and intermediates. Being stronger in different stances means a slight positioning error is less likely to led to failure.  For many years I trained both sumo and conventional and each is usually within 100-150 pounds of the other. By doing so I was able to develop muscles that one style favors over the other and my attention to technical mastery ensured my movement patterns weren’t polluted across the two. When properly applied combining these two in a training plan can lead to great gains. In fact it was this practice that caused my flow of peak deadlift performance to shift from conventional, to sumo, then back to conventional again.

Remember the “competition” stance will come later in the cycle when the weights are heaviest and the specificity principle is most important. Only under longer Wave Formulas would the off-stance be “peaked” because the plan would then logically shift to carry that newfound strength towards the stronger stance via the principle of carry-over.

Deficit and block work of variable height – This should stay within -1 to -3 inches for deficit work and +2 to +4 inches for block work (in most cases.) Remember that due to the limited ROM with higher blocks intensity can be made possible by masking technical errors. Don’t limit ROM to move heavy weight with blocks, limit ROM so it has a positive effect on your deadlifts without blocks. While ROM adjustment is a major, and easily applied means of adding variety to Deadlift Wave Forms, going extreme into the deficits or high blocks isn’t sensible.

Another note to keep in mind is that when using blocks slightly greater volume can be used due to the reduced ROM. This is a big reason why block use fails many lifters- they don’t work hard enough with them. A few heavy singles here or there isn’t nearly as effective as building your ability with slightly lighter weights and many more reps. Use upper T2 to low level T1 weights when using blocks, additional reps should be tested per the individual but in most cases a 3” block will yield a +2-3 rep ability in the 90% range.

Bands and reverse bands – These are great for two reasons, speed development and ROM overloading. One downside is not knowing actual band tension so I suggest buying a hanging scale. The application of this variation has great benefit for both type of deadlifters – those weak off the floor and at lockout. All it takes is adjustment to the loading perimeters. By shifting this variety throughout your waves you can emphasize what element is being trained, speed or overload.

Reverse bands can be easier to manage in a power rack and their assistance more easily measurable. The benefit of reverse bands is the effect of feeling “actual weight” in the hands. This is not only an enormous confidence booster but also a means to limit band assistance by making them deload very near the lockout. Reverse bands are my preferred option over normal band work, but both have benefits. In my opinion reverse bands do lend to overload emphasis better than regular band work, which seems to do better with speed directed training.

Chains – Much like using bands but easier to weigh and measure. One downside is the cumbersome nature of chains and how they affect the line of pull should they lay awkwardly on the platform. Like bands, chains are great for overload and speed directed work.

Paused – Paused deadlifting is the most superior means of ingraining a movement pattern in a lifter. Generally load will have to be reduced, as well as volumes, to account for the increased Time Under Tension (TUT). This is often overlooked and lifters as a result burn out too quickly with paused work. Drop the weight a little and just a few reps, ensure the pauses are tight, in the desired position, and actually paused, for the desired training effect. Cheating pauses doesn’t make them work better. Paused work should always be built into the plan early in the waves as you should avoid timing or pattern issues with near max weights and the compounded interest from improved form early in the cycle will have a great effect once maximal strength is realized at the end of the plan.

Repetition (Specificity) – This is simply using the competition movement for volume work. Think of this as an opportunity to practice the set-up, timing, and performance cues. This is nearly required at the end of a training cycle to ensure skills transfer from the variable movements that came before it. While all just a few degrees separated a majority of the work in the final wave should be done via repetition. Overload is certainly warranted, but hitting weights too heavy too early cuts a peak short. Use limited variety in the final wave and focus on most of the work to be middle range T2 (~75%) to middle range T1 (~90%).

Potential Options:

Suits/Briefs – Another means to overload the movement. If competing in single or multiply powerlifting this should certainly be the last wave.

Different Bars – This could be anything from using a trap bar, to a fat bar, to a deadlift bar. These all bring different elements to the table and use them according to the GAS principles and the principles of specificity. A hobbyist lifter could see great success using a trap bar for a majority of the waves, especially if they suffer from hip or back pain. Likewise an individual with grip problems could opt to use a fatter bar early in the cycle to put more demand on their grip.

Definitely avoid this shit if you don't have 100+lb. dumbbells...
Death by dumbbell sling shot isn't worth it bro.

Do Not Forget the Principle of Specificity!

Emphasize specificity over variety or ROM focus in final wave as the principle of specificity is paramount to strength expression. Without honed technique in regards the standard deadlift (either sumo or conventional) the lifter will miss their true potential. Maximize this by building the final wave to be specific to your form of deadlift to be tested for a new 1RM. The principle of specificity will always be paramount. 

Relative Intensity Progression

Do not base everything off an all-time max! The free spreadsheet in the Compendium links to REP MAXES not preset training maxes for a reason. Your deficit deadlifts shouldn’t be based off your block pulls and your paused work shouldn’t be based off your band pulls. Remember the strength curve changes slightly and use this to make accurate estimations in your abilities to hit high quality and recoverable Rep Maxes in training, so the additional sessions have realistic figures to be based off of (percentage-wise). Don’t be lazy and guesstimate your way through DLWF because the principles of individuality and specificity are then thrown out the window.

Regulating Intensity and Volume to Maintain High Effort

The structure of your training day, weeks, and waves all depend on how well your efforts feed into the next. Like mentioned previous doing paused work in the final wave would be a mistake, this same concept should be applied when you structure the waves to target the weaknesses in your deadlift. Heavier work done early in the week means it’s more likely to be an accurate reflection of ability, especially if after 1-2 days full rest. The lighter workouts coming later in the week should be adjusted based upon how that first session goes. Up or down in intensity will further dial in the effort used in training. Keep that in mind in each training session, should a weight feel “off” then don’t be afraid to reduce it because that will mean your effort is more effectively applied. Same goes for follow on T2 and T3 movements in the workout. Learning when to back off is a trait the most successful lifters all share.

Playing it a bit safe early on can have a faster on-target time for effort sustainability.

Cliff Notes on Holding a Better Effort Average

1. Be honest with your current abilities and work capacity.

2. Adjust volume based on recovery need. (This is partially combated via 3rd week volume reductions. Other reductions may be needed.)

3. Some may require higher volumes, at especially light intensities, simply to build a deadlift work capacity. 

 4. As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP) sets are always optional. AMRAP wisely! If an AMRAP goes out of control adjust remaining training to accommodate any increased recovery demand. 
(I know sometimes you just want that next rep and the only rationale is you’re a fucking animal.)

5. Most of all take an active role in your own recovery and training preparation! 

Example Wave Forms

 Example - 12 Weeks, Off The Floor Weakness

Example - 12 Weeks, Lockout Weakness

Example - Nine Weeks, Off The Floor Weakness

Example - Nine Weeks, Lock Out Weakness

Example - Six Weeks, Off The Floor Weakness

Example - Six Weeks, Lock Out Weakness

Enjoy Riding the Waves to Muscle Beach

In conclusion, this is a theory of training the deadlift and the framework based upon this theory is easily adjusted by the individual to suit their training needs; so long as they understand the demands of the work, and the predicted adaptations from the effort. The successive waves of variations, and the emphasis each place upon specific points of ROM and skills for a lifter, allow for sustainable, effective, and enjoyable approach to deadlift training that has continued to push my deadlift year after year. Keep in mind the examples put forward here and in the GZCL Compendium are intended for personal adjustment. It is hoped that the concept and intent of Extended Deadlift Wave Formulas has been thoroughly explained so that near any lifter can take this theory of deadlifting and apply it effectively to their training plan. 

Coming this weekend: The Volume Dependent Intensity Progression write up and GZCL Compendium addition. 

A short personal thanks to everyone for your continued support and trust in the training method. After four years of continued training, coaching, and research it is amazing to have data coming back to me each day from lifters around the world who have trained themselves with the method and earned Great Gains.

- Cody


  1. I really enjoyed reading this and am going to have a crack at it when I wrap up what I'm currently doing...

    If I still want to get my squat on, I'm guessing something like T2 front squat work on Day 1 and then my main back squat movement on Day 3 would work?

    With this much DL frequency, would you recommend highbar for the T1 work on Day 3 instead of lowbar?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Just to add.... on your infographic (weak off the floor/12 wk version) you say that the day 3 work in the last wave is based off your paused 1RM from wk7.

      On the spreadsheet compendium, the lbs version of the spreadsheet is based off the wk7 paused numbers, but on the kg sheet the cells for day3 are based off of the wk10 Banded 1RM...

      I'm guessing the infographic and the lbs tab of the spreadsheet are correct and the kg tab of the spreadsheet has the error. Just a gotcha for us europeans out there with our fancy kgs....

  2. That was a really interesting article to read. Thanks for the tips and the pieces of information

  3. Wow Really Very nice post Such a useful information thanks for sharing
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